The humble sports cards of childhood days have become a money-spinner for collectors as their value surges by more than 1,000 per cent over the past year.
A baseball card sold for a record US $6.6 million (AU $9 million) last month
Card collectors from the 1990s are unearthing valuable collections during COVID clean-outs in lockdown
Non-traditional sports such as tennis, soccer and golf are surging in value
Lockdown boredom and COVID clean-outs have unearthed long-forgotten swap cards and seen childhood collectors cashing in on their cardboard treasures.
An American baseball card last month sold for a record US $6.6 million dollars (AU $9 million).
While most are not worth anywhere near as much, the trading card craze has soared during the pandemic and it's paying off for savvy investors.
Card king swoops in
Even in places like central Queensland, people are dropping thousands of dollars on the collectibles.
Joseph Sacco jumped on the back of the card craze by opening a store in Rockhampton.
Mr Sacco has been collecting since he was a kid and has amassed a collection of more than 5,000 cards.
He started selling cards online 18 months ago and since opening his store in March, he has seen a range of people come through the doors.
"It's been a bit of a mixed bag, which is great — more males than females and mostly 20 to 45-year-olds," Mr Sacco said.
"The main sport would be NBA.
"It's a great conversation starter too as people see the cards I sell and reminisce about getting packs or certain cards when they were kids."
Cardboard cash out
The total value of cards listed on the online marketplace eBay totalled more than $2 billion in the first half of the year — up 175 per cent on the first six months of 2020.
Trading card sales on eBay Australia went up 379 per cent in 2020, with a trading card selling every minute.
A company spokesperson said basketball card sales were up 252 per cent over the past six months, while football card listings almost doubled.
Last month, a Honus Wagner 1909–1911 American Tobacco Co-issued T206 baseball card sold for a record US $6.6 million (AU $9 million).
It smashed the previous record of $5.2 million (AU $7 million) for a Mickey Mantle baseball rookie card purchased in January 2021.
The biggest sale in Australia this year was a 1996 Skybox Kobe Bryant basketball card at $104,950.46.
Non-traditional sports cards also surged in popularity.
Tennis cards grew by almost 1,800 per cent, while soccer card sales were 852 per cent greater in the first six months of 2021 compared with the same period in 2020.
The craze is not only for sports fans, with a first edition holographic Pokémon card of Charizard changing hands for $27,000 — the most expensive non-sports card sold.
How about my collection?
Unfortunately for many people, who dreamed as kids of one day cashing in on their card collection, there's only disappointment.
Cards mass produced in the early 1990s are not all that rare.
However, others from eras before and after are now fetching millions, especially if they are in pristine condition.
Graded cards, as they're known, are cards sent off for official grading.
The grading companies review the condition of the card — its corners, its surface and how it is printed — to give it a score out of 10.
High-graded cards are worth up to 20 times more than non-graded cards.
Investing in cards
People purchase a packet of cards hoping a card worth thousands of dollars may be inside.
CQUniversity researcher Alex Russell, who works in the university's experimental gambling research laboratory in Sydney, did not see card collecting as gambling.
Instead, he compared it to investing in the stock market.
"It seems to have the ingredients of a gambling product but most people wouldn't see it as gambling in the same way," Dr Russell said.
"Things like stock trading, you put money at risk and you don't know whether the stocks are going to go up or down.
"There is at least some degree of a chance of that happening; it sounds like gambling, but we have this idea that it's not really gambling and trading cards are similar.
"You pay money to either open a pack to see what's in there or you can buy a card from dealers and you're always hoping that you're going to get a really good card … there are some that are rare and worth a lot of money."